The presence of a planetary system can shield a planetesimal disk from the secular gravitational perturbations due to distant outer massive objects (planets or stellar companions). As the host star evolves off the main sequence to become a white dwarf, these planets can be engulfed during the giant phase, triggering secular instabilities and leading to the tidal disruptions of small rocky bodies. These disrupted bodies can feed the white dwarfs with rocky material and possibly explain the high-metallicity material in their atmospheres. We illustrate how this mechanism can operate when the gravitational perturbations are due to the KL mechanism from a stellar binary companion, a process that is activated only after the planet has been removed/engulfed. We show that this mechanism can explain the observed accretion rates if: (1) the planetary engulfment happens rapidly compared to the secular timescale, which is generally the case for wide binaries (>100 au) and planetary engulfment during the asymptotic giant branch; (2) the planetesimal disk has a total mass of ∼10-4 - 10-2 M⊕. We show that this new mechanism can provide a steady supply of material throughout the entire life of the white dwarfs for all cooling ages and can account for a large fraction (up to nearly half) of the observed polluted white dwarfs.
- planets and satellites: dynamical evolution and stability
- white dwarfs